Ninja Gaiden

Year: 2004
Platform: Xbox
Developer: Team Ninja
Genre: Action
Review Date: 11/25/04
Rating: **

Super-ninja Ryu Hayabusa returns in this update to the classic "Ninja Gaiden" series. With his trusty Dragon Sword in hand, he seeks vengeance for his slaughtered clan. And that's all I know because I've never been able to play the game for longer than five minutes. Everyone warned me this was a hard game, but I had to find out for myself. I'll admit that the only reason I even bothered with trying was to see how Ryu's tale fit into the "Dead Or Alive" (1996) universe, and to see Ayane's role in the proceedings. I was a fool. On the plus side of it being so difficult is the fact that I never had a chance to get emotionally engaged or care about any of the characters, unlike the soul-sucking "Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time" (2003).

Why would anyone make a game that's so hard that it alienates the majority of the target audience? This is probably my biggest criticism against the entire video game industry. As video games mature as a storytelling medium, the target demographic grows and matures as well. Unfortunately, not everyone has the dexterity, reflexes, and free time of an idle teenage boy, so this rich storytelling is denied to the people who are the most interested in following it. As a classic 1980's gamer, I feel that my video game skills are solidly average, which means that there are a LOT of players, and potential players, out there who are alienated even more than I am. I play games to be entertained, not to be punished. I'm all about the presentation, story, characters, and interaction, not about challenges, scores, and ranking. I refuse to believe that I'm the only one who thinks that games should be fun. The graphics and presentation of "Ninja Gaiden" are beautiful and breathtaking, and I'm sure there's a fascinating story in there waiting to be told. Unfortunately, I don't have the ninja skills necessary to find out. Imagine if the year's best movie came out, but you could only watch it if you won an Olympic medal. There's no physical reason why you couldn't watch the movie, but there's an artificial and arbitrary barrier preventing you from doing so - an entertainment caste system, if you will. Video games have always been a geek's paradise, but as the games evolve they need to extend their accessibility, if for no other reason just to offset runaway production costs. Purists will say that lowering the difficulty bar is selling out and ruins the experience, but I would disagree. Changing the content to appeal to a larger audience is selling out, but making the game more accessible just means that more people can enjoy it. Having a "really easy" setting on "Ninja Gaiden" would not diminish my enjoyment of Ryu's story in the slightest. In fact, it would actually allow me to enjoy it in the first place. And for those who relish a challenge, no one is going to force them to play with the kid gloves on. There's a huge untapped market out there of people who would love to play games, but don't have the necessary motor skills, so isn't it time to pay attention to them too? Or is this just the desperate cry of an aging gamer who refuses to grow up and let go of his childhood dreams?